Recently, a large Australian company asked me to invite a top multinational Brazilian CEO into the boardroom. However, when I reached out to him, he declined amicably due to his reluctance to travel from South America to Australia to attend multiple board meetings and ad-hoc sessions in a given year.

Since the global financial crisis, boardroom industry statistics (PwC & Mckinsey) reveal that, across the US, UK and EMEA, chairmen are conducting more board meetings to intensively question management. Some developed markets have seen the number of hours board members are spending in sessions significantly increased and more than doubled. Global companies have been experimenting with Virtual Reality board meetings in the form of shareholder meetings. Intel’s 2016 annual meeting was entirely virtual. In 2015, 90 companies used virtual shareholder meetings and in addition to Intel, GoPro, SeaWorld Entertainment, PayPal and Yelp have all held virtual shareholder meetings over the last year.

Chairmen often ask which disruptive technologies, such as artificial intelligence, robotics, 3D printing or platforms, will enable them to propel themselves into the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The answer varies by industry; however, Microsoft’s Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) solutions, such as Holoportation and the HoloLens, offer broad potential. Using 3D Cameras, Microsoft has developed an innovative technology that can “virtually Holoport” an individual in real time, thus allowing face-to-face interaction for individuals thousands of miles apart.

After learning about this, the Brazilian CEO decided to accept the Australian company’s invitation and will be using the HoloLens, upon commercial release.

This kind of technology gives a competitive advantage and is one of the ways in which the Fourth Industrial Revolution is playing out in the boardrooms of the future. Holoportation has the potential to change boardroom culture in the same way that iPads and other tablets already have. Disruptive technologies such as Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality will be rippling through boardrooms.

The responsible Hologram

Shareholders expect board members to be physically present and attend all board meetings. Chairmen, committee leads, shareholders, regulators, and litigation lawyers all review board meeting minutes to ascertain if board members were physically present while performing their fiduciary responsibilities - essentially, that they act on behalf of the shareholders in good faith. This put limits on attracting international expertise into the boardroom. It also requires companies to state in their Board Committee Charters and regulatory filings how the board members will be attending sessions.

With traffic and pollution significant issues in many cities, increasingly global companies are allowing employees to telework: is it not time to allow board members to be virtually present for boardroom sessions and special ad hoc urgent meetings?

The Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) markets were worth approximately $4.5 billion last year (2015), and the market is expected to grow by a staggering 2,500% by 2020, to $105.2 billion. This is a huge growth market and its applications will be boundless - from gaming, medical education to executive training. If accurate, this rate of growth would have a curve similar to that of the early smartphone market between 2006 and 2010. Moreover, both these technologies could provide even greater utility to users in the long term and, to some extent, may even replace smartphone use.

One thing is certain, boardrooms are going to innovate and experiment with disruptive technologies to gain competitive advantage.